April 7, 2011

Poet for April 7, 2011 - Robert Lowell

Two poems today from one of the leading poets of the latter part of the 20th century, Robert Lowell -- a poet I have not read much of...yet! (His more famous poem is "Memories of West Street and Lepke" from his ground-breaking collection, Life Studies, and you can read more about it here.)
Robert Lowell (Born: 1 March 1917, Boston, MA - Died: 12 September 1977, NYC, NY)

“Is getting well ever an art / Or art a way to get well.”- Robert Lowell
The resident doctor said,
“We are not deep in ideas, imagination or enthusiasm –
how can we help you?”
I asked,
“These days of only poems and depression –
what can I do with them?
Will they help me to notice
what I cannot bear to look at?”

The doctor is forgotten now
like a friend’s wife’s maiden-name.
I am free
to ride elbow to elbow on the rush-hour train
and copy on the back of a letter,
as if alone:
“When the trees close branches and redden,
their winter skeletons are hard to find—“
to know after long rest
and twenty miles of outlying city
that the much-heralded spring is here,
and say,
“Is this what you would call a blossom?”
Then home – I can walk it blindfold.
But we must notice –
we are designed for the moment. 



Those blessèd structures, plot and rhyme—
why are they no help to me now
I want to make
something imagined, not recalled?
I hear the noise of my own voice:
The painter’s vision is not a lens,
it trembles to caress the light.
But sometimes everything I write   
with the threadbare art of my eye
seems a snapshot,
lurid, rapid, garish, grouped,
heightened from life,
yet paralyzed by fact.
All’s misalliance.
Yet why not say what happened?
Pray for the grace of accuracy
Vermeer gave to the sun’s illumination*
stealing like the tide across a map
to his girl solid with yearning.
We are poor passing facts,
warned by that to give
each figure in the photograph
his living name.

* The poem Epilogue was printed as the last piece (excluding a few translations) in Lowell's last book, Day by Day (1977). 

* Vermeer's paintings are famous for the way he amazingly captured the play of light and shadows in his paintings. While his The Girl With The Pearl Earring is more popular lately due to the book and the movie by the same name, see this Vermeer painting of Girl With The Red Hat for the amazing play of light captured through by the Dutch master.

"It is amazing how you feel the room is full of light. In a way, light is the subject." 
- David Hockney

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